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Green River, Utah
Report by Marc W. McCord
with significant contributions by Harry Dundore

Ouray to Green River State Park at the Town of Green River
~ 128.0 Miles
Desolation Canyon and Gray Canyon

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Green River is a very long stream forming in the Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains in Bridger Teton National Forest of Sublette County, Wyoming, then winding its way south into Utah, turning east into Colorado and finally back south down into Utah where it terminates at the confluence of the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park in San Juan County. The featured section is the 128 mile run from the very small town of Ouray in Uintah County to Green River State Park at the Town of Green River in Grand County. Paddlers should note that BLM permits are ALWAYS required for trips on this reach of the Green River, and that they are limited to a MAXIMUM of 9 calendar days on the section between Sand Wash and Swasey's Beach. See the "Permit Requirements" section below for additional information.

Above Ouray, Green River trips are about 25-46 miles in length, but the run from Ouray to IH 70 is about 128 miles of Class I to III high desert canyon paddling in a very remote area of eastern Utah. It is common, however, to start trips at Sand Wash and end them at Swasey's beach, which shortens the trip by about 40 miles of flatwater paddling and avoids the diversion dam between Swasey's Beach and Green River State Park. Rafters, particularly, prefer this shorter reach to avoid paddling big, heavily-laden rafts in strong headwinds that can whip up suddenly. The winds usually come later in the afternoon, so getting an early start is recommended.

This is a gorgeous run through parts of Uintah, Carbon and Grand Counties that passes through the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge, Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation and the West Tavaputs Plateau. Along the way the Green River is augmented by flows from the Duchesne, White, Nine Mile and Price Rivers, providing adequate boating levels almost year-round, providing ice flows don't get in the way, though the prime season runs from March through November. The run includes passage through the red sandstone Desolation and Gray Canyons, both significant geological wonders that will capture your attention.

This is a 6-10 day trip for marathon paddlers in canoes and rafts (kayaks need canoe or raft support to have adequate provisions including plenty of drinking water) who enjoy getting away from everyday life for a trip far removed from any signs of civilization. Drinking water is not available along the river, and river water is not suitable for filtration systems due to the heavy silt content, so bring all your own water!

Along the way are about 60 rapids, most rated Class I to II, but a few that will reach Class III to III+ (or even Class IV) status at high flows. There are few access points (and no convenient ones) between Ouray and Green River, so once you start the trip you are committed to finishing it, though this is a very popular family trip destination for many people. Pack everything you need for the long journey that ends about 90 miles west of Grand Junction, Colorado.

It should be mentioned that heavy mosquito infestation will be found especially between Sand Wash and Joe Hutch Canyon, particularly at higher levels and before late-August to early-September. Take along plenty of DEET and/or wear appropriate clothing to repel mosquito bites! Definitely reserve a screen cabin at Sand Wash, where mosquitoes are particularly bad. A screen tent for the group and mosquito netting for the groover are also highly recommended. Bugs are much worse in camp than on the river.


Central Uintah, Carbon and central Grand Counties in eastern Utah near the Colorado border. The Duchesne, White, Nine Mile and Price Rivers all flow into the Green River in this 128-mile section.

Distance from major cities

Salt Lake City 160 miles; Grand Junction 275 miles; Durango 445 miles; Denver 520 miles; Albuquerque 705 miles; Phoenix 858 miles; Oklahoma City 1,094 miles; Dallas 1,250 miles; Austin 1,360 miles; San Antonio 1,368 miles; Houston 1,546 miles; Little Rock 1,471 miles; Kansas City 1,181 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality in the Green River is good to very good in summer months after winter ice and snow melts. It flows cold and silty from the red sandstone particulate that it washes downriver. It is not drinkable without purification, and at times may not be drinkable even after purification. Water from springs in side canyons should also be purified before drinking. Navigable flows are generally limited to mid-spring through late fall, though the river MAY be navugable year-round unless ice blocks its channel during winter months, which often happens between December and mid-March.

Best times to go

Mid-March through late-November is the prime season for running this section of the Green River, depending upon inflow from the Duchesne, White, Nine Mile and Price Rivers between Ouray and the Town of Green River. Depending upon winter temperature conditions and the amount of precipitaton in its drainage basin, the Green River may be navigable year-round. Between late-fall and late-spring freezing temperatures can be expected. Summer daytime temperatures can be 100° F or hotter, with nights warm to cold. Paddlers should bring adequate clothing for hot, cold, wet and dry conditions. Wetsuits or drysuits with a water-repelling base layer are strongly recommended for running the river anytime of the year.

Permit Requirements

All trips on the Green River between Sand Wash and Green River require BLM permits at all times. BLM in Utah has changed its permitting process and it is now using for the permitting process. Trips starting between May 1 and September 30 are permitted through the lottery system. Permits for trips starting October 1 through April 30, or for cancellation dates within the lottery permit period, are issued on a first come basis through For full details please see Green River Permit Stipulations, or call BLM in Price, Utah at 435-636-3600 for details and permit information.

Camping, stopping or hiking on river left (east side of the river) above Coal Creek requires an additional permit from the Ute Nation. A Ute Tribal Permit is not obtainable until after you have acquired a Deso-Gray permit. or information on obtaining a Ute Tribal Permit go to

Hazards to navigation

There are at least 20 solid Class II rapids on this reach of the river, and about 5-7 which are, or can become, Class III or higher depending upon flow conditions. Most people will encounter the rapids late on the second or early on the third day of a trip depending upon your schedule and paddle speed. These rapids are Steer Ridge, Joe Hutch Canyon, Wire Fence, Three Fords, Coal Creek, Belknap Falls, and Rattlesnake (see map at right for locations.)

Joe Hutch Canyon Rapid is now a solid, boat-eating Class IV due to a huge debris flow that radically changed the rapid in the Fall of 2008. Entering the rapid just left of center you will encounter water pillowing over a boulder that appears benign, but behind the boulder is an 8-9 foot deep hole that gets you very wet and sets you up for a run-out on big waves and holes right down the middle. It is runnable through this line for those with the skills and strength to maintain boat control. Easier lines are right of center, but stay off the wall, and left of center through the boulder garden that protects the entrance to the rapid.

Here is a description of the Joe Hutch run according to Harry Dundore: Scouting river right is very easy and absolutely necessary.

Entrance: Strainer river right, hole center, HUGE wavetrain left w/ nasty eddy pocket hard left farther down before the wall (very hard to get out of and sets you up for the wall).

Middle: Open shallow water river right, Wavetrain slams into an undercut wall w/ two big traps sticking out perpendicular on river left (NO PILLOW!)

Bottom: Open water river right, small wavetrain center, big safe eddy river left.

The Run: Start hard left and pull HARD right just across the bottom of the first wave. This will line you up for missing the hole and strainer and making the open water in the middle. Continue to pull off the wall, but it's not that hard if you make the first move perfectly (and you must). Boats that tried to sneak between the hole and the strainer got wrapped on the strainer. Boats that tried to run the wave train (14-16 foot rafts) got hosed on the 3rd wave about 75% of the time and slammed into the traps on the wall. At this flow (16,000 cfs) lining a canoe on river right would be a total piece of cake. You wouldn't even break a sweat.

It is strongly recommended that you station at least 2 throw bags at the eddy, river left bottom. They'll be busy! Rescue from river right does not work! A Z-Drag wrap kit is absolutely necessary for this run at higher flows!

Open canoes will swamp in some of the larger rapids at any flow level, so paddlers should take note of conditions before putting in. Large, rolling waves and big holes will test the skills of boaters at above normal flows. Canoes should be filled with flotation and possibly have a spray cover to avoid swamping. Distance, difficulty of access and remoteness all combine to create a hazard in the event of an emergency. Boaters running this section of the river should be accomplished wilderness paddlers and campers who are fully prepared with adequate food, water, medical supplies, boating and camping gear and a strong mental attitude, though novice paddlers and families often make this trip when guided by experienced and licensed outfitters. High canyon walls make egress difficult at best to impossible at worst. Be prepared for weather and climate conditions. Watch for snakes if hiking or exploring the side canyons area, where you might find the Mojave, Timber, and Rock rattlesnakes hiding under rocks or sunning themselves on ledges during warm months, or even on warm days during mild winter months. Ice floes and blockages are a definite hazard to navigation, as well as boater safety, between December and mid-March.

There is also a diversion dam, the Tusher Diversion Dam, a curved Ogee weir across the Green River (GPS N39° 04' 52.72" / W 110° 08' 25.93") about 8.3 miles above Green River State Park (about 3.3 miles below Swasey's Beach) that usually requires portaging. The center of the curve points back upriver, so the center of the dam is closer from upriver than the sides. At some water levels it can have a nasty hydraulic current, and at low water levels it is definitely not runnable. The dam may be runnable for very experienced paddlers after carefully scouting and with a downriver safety set up in case a rescue is required. Most paddlers will want to portage around this structure. It is reported that the dam is most runnable on far river right, but discretion is the responsibility of each paddler who decides to attempt this run. The dam has a gradient slide rather than a vertical drop, but it creates a strong hydraulic current, so caution is strongly advised.

Emergencies may require air evacuation, the cost of which is charged to the injured person. Walking out of the canyons will take several hours to several days, and should not be attempted except under dire circumstances. See the emergency services section for specific details and contact information for the Green and other Utah rivers.

River Access Points

SH 88 at Ouray (GPS N40° 05' 09.02" / W 109° 40' 33.62") at 0.0 miles; Sand Wash (GPS N39° 50' 25.82" / W 109° 54' 46.37") at about 32.0 miles (graded dirt road conditions); Nefertiti Rapid at about 112.4 miles; Swasey's Beach (GPS N 39° 06' 44.68" / W 110° 06' 32.75") at about 116.4 miles; Green River State Park boat ramp (GPS N 38° 59' 18.74" / W 110° 09' 01.33") at about 128.0 miles. There are no other access points for this section of the Green River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds located along this section of the Green River. Green River State Park, with excellent camping facilities and amenities, is located just below IH 70 outside the Town of Green River. Numerous natural campsites can be found all along this reach of the river. If you pack it in, then pack it out! Leave no trace of your having been there other than footprints. Fire pans are required of all boaters regardless of how meals are prepared, and ALL waste materials and garbage MUST be carried out for proper disposal - NO EXCEPTIONS!

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are numerous BLM-permitted outfitters offering rentals, shuttles, air shuttles, guided trips, river information and other services for this reach of the Green River. Contact BLM at 435-636-3622 for a current list of licensed outfitters.

Reviewer's comments

For marathon paddlers who don't get their jollies doing 5-10 mile trips this is the one for you! It is 128 miles of desert canyon paddling in a very scenic and remote area that is almost totally inaccessible except from the put-in and the take-out, helicopters excepted! However, most people choose to paddle only the 84 miles between Sand Wash and Swasey's Beach because the first 32 miles and the last 16 miles are flatwater with possibly strong headwinds.

This area is a throwback to the Age of Dinosaurs, when behemoths roamed the region. It is also an ancient place for indigenous peoples who lived here as much as 10,000 or more years ago. Many petroglyph sites can be found on the road to Sand Wash, at Nefertiti and along the river. Paddlers should be respectful of the natural environment, defacing nothing and taking nothing except memories and photographs. It is likely that you will paddle this reach of the Green River in the company of many other groups ranging in experience level from novices to experts who thrive on the ultimate outdoors adventure, depending upon when you go - summer months are the most crowded. Insects, especially mosquitos, can be very bad, and Sand Wash can make you wear mosquito netting and remain fully covered while there, but after mid-September the insects are not so bad, and may even be non-existent.

For those capable of long trips in wilderness conditions this one ranks right up there with the best! It is reserved for self-sufficient paddlers who want to experience what few others will ever see, and a trip here will change your attitude about marathon adventures, probably for the better. Be prepared, be safe, and be sure to paddle this reach of the Green River if you are well-suited for long runs in a gorgeous setting. Dogs are no longer allowed on the reach between Sand Wash and Swasey's Beach beginning in 2012, so leave Fido at home or in a doggie jail (kennel.) This IS black bear country, and bear sightings are common. In 2011, there was a bear encounter around Wire Fence Rapid, and an attack on a human occurred in 2003 at Fret Falls. Take all necessary precautions when camping in bear country. For information on how to avoid bear encounters and attacks please visit the BLM website at

Technical Data
Class Rating I to III (IV)
Length 128 miles
Minimum Flow 650 cfs
Optimum Flow 2,000 - 20,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 50,000 cfs
First Put-in SH 88 at Ouray
Lat. / Long. N 40° 05' 08.74" / W 109° 40' 33.86"
Last Take-out Green River State Park
Lat. / Long. N 38° 59' 18.74" / W 110° 09' 01.33"
Elevation 4,650 - 4,051 ft. msl
Gradient Av. ~ 4.7 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Jensen
Web: Green River
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Typically, March through November
Permits Yes, BLM - see Permit Requirements at the left(435-636-0975)

Green River slideshow

Sand Wash Boat Access on the Green River
Sand Wash Boat Access on the Green River

Entering Desolation Canyon on the Green River
Entering Desolation Canyon on the Green River

Green River map - Desolation and Gray Canyons

Harry and Lila rafting Desolation Canyon
Harry Dundore and Lila Lani rafting Desolation Canyon

Black bear in Desolation Canyon
Black bear in Desolation Canyon

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Utah Whitewater Club - Canoeing, Kayaking and Rafting

Marc McCord running Joe Hutch Rapid
Marc McCord running Joe Hutch Rapid
Photo (C) 2011, Larry Rice. All rights reserved

Preparing to launch for another day on the river
Preparing to launch for another day on the river

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Wire Fence Rapid at the end of Desolation Canyon
Wire Fence Rapid at the end of Desolation Canyon

Marc McCord running Wire Fence Rapid
Marc McCord running Wire Fence Rapid
Photo (C) 2011, Larry Rice. All rights reserved

Petroglyphs at Nefertiti campsite
Petroglyphs at Nefertiti campsite

Petroglyphs at Nefertiti campsite
Petroglyphs at Nefertiti campsite

Swaswy's Beach take-out in Gray Canyon
Swaswy's Beach take-out in Gray Canyon

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Green River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Green River
[ Green River Homepage ] [ Flaming Gorge Dam to Browns Park NWR ] [ Gates of Lodore to Split Mountain Campground ]
[ Split Mountain Campground to Ouray ] [ IH 70 to Colorado River ]

[ Duchesne River ] [ Nine Mile River ] [ Upper Price River ] [ Middle Price River ] [ Lower Price River ]
[ Upper San Rafael River ] [ Lower San Rafael River ] [ Uintah River ] [ White River ]

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Last updated February 2, 2015

Copyright © 1997-2015, Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. All rights reserved. Southwest Paddler, CobraGraphics and Canoeman River Guide Services are trademarks of Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. The textual, graphic, audio, and audio/visual material in this site is protected by United States copyright law and international treaties. You may not copy, distribute, or use these materials except for your personal, non-commercial use. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All original photographs on this web site are the exclusive property of Marc W. McCord or other designated photographers and may not be copied, duplicated, reproduced, distributed or used in any manner without prior written permission under penalty of US and International laws and treaties.